Astylos of Crotona was a runner in ancient Greece. Though you’ve likely never heard of him he’s important in the history of sports because he was the world’s first free agent…only he was a free agent in a time when being one meant having your home literally turned into a prison because Ancient Greek people were funny like that.
Astylos was mostly active through the years 480-488 BC, during which he accomplished a feat few runners in history have ever managed, winning the same two events in three consecutive Olympic games. The events in question were the stade and diaulos. For those of you who aren’t following this series of articles, the events are roughly the equivalent of our modern 200-meter and 400-meter races, respectively.
To really rub it in, Astylos also competed and won an event known as the hoplitodromos during his career too. This race required the runners to wear full hoplite armor consisting of heavy bronze greaves, a helmet and a traditional bronze shield. The total weight of this armor was recorded as at least 50 pounds and the race required runners to sprint a full 200 meters. We should point out that Astylos and his peers were the last few athletes to run with the greaves, since a few years later runners no longer needed to wear them for the event. We’d also like to point out that although wearing armor was compulsory for this race, runners didn’t wear anything else with it.
So to sum up what we know about Astylos so far, he won the 200 and 400 meter sprint events for eight years running (ha!), who also dabbled in sprinting completely naked with a set of golden greaves framing his dong for no other reason than Screw you, I want my dong framed in gold. If that doesn’t sound exactly like the kind of man you’d want on your team you’re either stupid or a member of Cobra Kai, either way you’re not fit to behold the magnificence of a man like Astylos or the ethereal beam of light his penis gave off when he ran.
After hearing rumors of this golden-wanged gentlemen running so fast his farts can occasionally still be smelled in Greece if you run backwards fast enough, the tyrant king of Syracuse had his officials approach Astylos with an offer. The offer was basically a contract for Astylos to run for the city of Syracuse instead of his native, Croton. To sweeten the deal Astylos was also offered a ton of money for his services, making him effectively the first free agent in sports history.
The city of Croton didn’t take Astylos’s betrayal well and angrily tore down the statue they’d built to honor him. To further prove how fickle sports fans back then were, they also turned his home into a prison. Because there’s mad and there’s we’re-filling-your-childhood-home-with-murderers mad.
We presume one of the reasons people were so angry had something to do with the fact that Astylos’s sporting achievements were remarkable. His three consecutive victories in the Stade and Diaulos coupled with his victory in the Hoplitodromos were feats that weren’t matched for another 300 years. In fact, in the city of Sparta they literally had to add a small section at the bottom of a statue celebrating their own running hero, Chionis, explaining that the hoplitodromos didn’t exist when he was alive, because Astylos’s dominance made him look like a chump. When you run so hard the Spartans have to explain why they suck compared to you, you know you’ve made the big time.
Despite his achievements the end of Astylos’s story is a sad one. Because of his betrayal, he was banished from his hometown and most sources agree that he died a lonely man. Granted, a lonely man with millions of ancient world dollars and enough Olympic victories under his belt to backhand everyone he ever met and get away with it, but still a lonely man.